The Euroleague and indeed the wider Basketball community is in shock and mourning today after the death of a Red Star (Crvena Zvezda) Belgrade fan before the clubs’ clash with Galatasaray in Istanbul, Turkey. 25-year old Marko Ivkovic was tragically stabbed in the chest and died of his injuries after five hours of surgery at a local hospital.
The exact nature of what happened is not fully understood as there is a lot of movement from both Serbian and Turkish authorities, with both offering different versions of what led to the grim event. The incident caused a minor political crisis both in the Basketball fraternity and in the wider political arena. Aware of pre-game clashes (but not the death), Galatasaray head coach Ergin Ataman had harsh words for the Serbian fans visiting to watch their team ultimately lose in the Euroleague.
“Around 300 terrorists came to Istanbul without tickets and attacked our people. Euroleague must suspend them. I had the chance to see what happened outside the arena. They had torches and attacked the police. It is a shame”.
The tactician’s words caused huge controversy beyond the sport as Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic labelled Ataman “persona non grata”. Ataman has since retracted his words via Twitter, apologising for his post-game statement that was made without knowing that a Red Star fan had lost his life. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Vucic and offered condolences, but it is unclear what was discussed between the two. Ataman is now not welcome in Serbia.
Turkish authorities insist that the incident happened between Red Star Belgrade fans only and that Galatasaray supporters were not involved in the death. Trouble flared outside the Abdi Ikpeci Arena when 400 Serbian fans were denied entry to the game, and Turkish authorities have said that they were not allowed in because they had been rioting. The local Istanbul police later said that the fans did not have tickets for the game; it is unclear which of these facts is accurate.
Serbian fans say they were attacked by Galatasaray fans, but no physical clashes have been captured on camera between the two sets of fans. The home support were inciting the Serbian contingent though with chants of “Kosovo, Kosovo,” leading to the Red Star faithful attacking nearby vehicles and rioting.
The Serbian consul to Istanbul expressed his sadness and said his people had warned Turkish authorities that this was a hot game.
“It was an act of hostility and a terrible tragedy … I am distraught,” Zoran Markovic told RTS.
“We had been warning the Turkish authorities for two days prior to the game that it was going to be a high-risk match and we are now trying to make sure that all Red Star fans leave Turkey safely as soon as possible.
“I also wish to stress that the doctors fought like lions for the young man’s life after he was rushed to hospital, the resuscitation attempts lasted five hours but he died because he had lost too much blood.”
The Euroleague and Galatasaray have both issued their condolences, but are both awaiting the results of a full investigation. Greek giant Olympiacos sent a letter to Red Star that read:
”There are no words to describe our feelings on the announcement of Marko’s death. We would like to express our condolences to his family and you. Sincerely yours, Olympiacos BC”
Our thought’s go out to Mr. Ivkovic’s family during this difficult time.